Coaching: Two Man Game Pick or No Pick?

By Mike Muetzel,

It is hard to watch any of the NCAA games on television without hearing the commentary regarding the infamous "two-man" games. Maybe it is a return to the old school, or maybe it is all something new, depending on how old you are, but clearly there are many new wrinkles. For 30 plus years, I have been an "anti-pick" coach for reasons that might surprise you.

In interviews with college coaches, we often discussed the fact that for the last five years college lacrosse has changed. The settled scenario offenses were driven more from up top by middies, and only a few programs really maintained a focus on the 'pick' game. Then as the season gained momentum in 2010, we saw a real switch back to picks in offenses.

Now I can offer a lot of good reasons why I have not been a huge proponent of 'picks' or 'screens' in the past. For our teams, they seemed more often than not to result in a moving pick call and rarely created a true scoring opportunity. And I came to realize that the primary reason we were never good at setting picks is that we rarely ever practiced them in scrimmages. But at least I had a good reason for not including them in the practice plans; they are tough to practice. Please stay with me here.

We like to have constant motion in practices with a clear focus of a fast pace for drills. And practicing picks just seemed to slow thing down, or we had many players just stranding around, both of which drive me crazy. Another reason had to do with priorities. If we were to take the 20 or 30 minutes a week needed to get proficient at picking on and off ball and instead focused on stick skills or shooting or manufacturing transition scenarios, which would be a better contributing factor to scoring more goals and winning more games? So I always chose the second option. But I was wrong. If it is good enough for Syracuse, Princeton, and Penn State, it is probably something I should re-consider.

Now I have come to realize there is a way to meet both objectives. Like many college coaches, we run a lot of 4v4 drills in practices, and we now have 14 or 15 variations (see the earlier article, The Best Single Drill). But with just a little creativity, we have integrated this increasingly popular offensive philosophy into our 4v4 as well as many other drills.

We can begin a 4v4 drill by insisting that two of the three players off ball need to pick off ball. Or conversely, we may require that the drill begin with at least two on-ball picks before we take a shot. The same concepts can be integrated into 6v6, although we rarely run this in practice or in our 10v10 work when not in transition. We found players loved the concepts, as they now had to really think in these drills to facilitate the picks.

Coaching Picks

In a basic discussion of setting picks, probably the most common mistake is in the angles of the pick. We want to focus on picking the body as opposed to picking air, and angles are better than squaring up. Next, the location of the picks has really changed if you watch a lot of top offensive schemes.

Traditional picks were always up top on some type of sweep from the midfielders or set directly behind the cage at X or in the crease area. Now we are seeing many more on-ball picks set at or slightly above goal line extended or 45 degrees and off ball on the wings or in the corners.

Whatever your preference as a coach, incorporate these teaching fundamentals into other drills and set the low cones in the areas where you think picks will most benefit offensive motion in drills. Remember to start basic with two or three areas and philosophies and then gradually build your picking strategy.

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